On the Aurora Theater Shooting

I’m sure it’s no surprise that I’m thinking about the Aurora shooting, just like many of you. We all derive our lessons and meaning from such a horrific event, and very sadly in this case, that’s how life works. It was never a question of whether I would weigh in with my 2 cents; it was more a question of which aspect I wanted to tackle. There’s also the question of whether my opinion is worth 2 cents of your time, but that’s up to you.

I could talk about what possesses a man to painstakingly plan a murderous assault on a theater full of people, but I honestly have no idea. I could talk about the bizarre combination of behavior involved, but I’m struggling to match the man’s rampage with his sudden decision to stop killing and an apparently calm surrender to police, not to mention his decision to inform them of his trip-wired and pyrotechnic-filled apartment. I could also speculate on the amount of money that went into his equipment in what appears to be a relatively short span of time. If I had a sudden windfall on that scale, I pretty sure I would find something better on which to spend it.

I could talk about the victims themselves, but there are no words that can account for the incredible personal losses that occurred in a timespan measured in heartbeats. I could pontificate about how life is short and how we never know what may bring it to an end. We all know this.

I could discuss the almost immediate and opportunistic surge in the arguments of the gun control people, who would have us believe that some amount of gun control would have prevented this kind of thing from occurring. Flipping the coin, I could spin out the strange victim-style reaction of the community involved. While I truly admire the heroic response of all the first responders, as well as the sympathetic one of the community, simply saying that we are not victims does not make it so, and refusing to speak the name of the heinous perpetrator does nothing but fail to face the evil and insanity that exists in the world. Turning the other cheek does not make one a victim, but turning one’s back does.

No, there are two aspects to this tragedy that stand out for me, at least on the face of it. The first one relates to risk, on which I have written before. Ultimately, there is nothing we can do to prevent such an act from occurring in a free society. We can control guns to the limits of our law enforcement budgets, and we cannot stop gun violence. It will work more or less as well as trying to control the drug trade. We should prepare ourselves for the false argument that goes like this: If you are willing to give up enough of your freedom, we (meaning the authorities) can protect you. No. We are in a conversion of thought in society that goes from the idea that by simply being alive, we take some measure of risk and responsibility for our decisions, to a new idea that says that we no longer have the right to do for ourselves, to take our own risks. We should simply prepare to dial 911 as quickly as possible and let the government handle our emergencies.

In this case, the government handled it remarkably well. A 90 second response time is phenomenal, and the Aurora community should be justly proud of everyone involved, from the first police on the scene to the hospital personnel who saved so many lives. But, we can’t escape the fact that this isn’t Minority Report, and the best police officer in the world could not show up 90 seconds before the shooting and save all those lives.  This is relevant in the larger sense. On the 11th of September, 11 years ago, the government began trading our rights for a security that will never exist, and as a nation, we have willingly made that trade. Risk is infinite, highly random, and can never be eliminated. Trading anything for the promise of security is a bad deal for a free nation.

Aspect number two is that while I do not want to take anything away from the victims and the multiple displays of heroism that have been made public, I’ve yet to hear of anyone who tried to stop this asshole with the gun. Based on what has been reported, I am proud to say that there were some incredible displays of defensive heroism. There is no doubt in my mind that there were lives saved by people who had the presence of mind to cover their loved ones, who performed life saving first aid, and who literally dragged and carried people out of the the theater. In most cases, that is the best that could possibly be done. I see it as unfiltered heroism. In some cases, lives were simply traded, one person shielding another. That, to me, is the purest form of heroic deed. Anyone who can stop arterial bleeding with one hand while dialing 911 with the other is a hero.

What bothers me is that, given everything I know about the story, it seems incredible to me that no one attempted to tackle the shooter. Just from pure statistics alone, you’d think one person in a crowded theater would give it a try. Now, I’ve been through training and situations that involve pure chaos. I understand how shocking and confusing the whole incident would have been. Dark theater, smoke, trouble breathing, gunfire, blood, people trying to flee, and Batman flickering in the background. That is a tough environment for anyone to respond to distress. But I’m still asking the question.

The young woman who was interviewed shortly afterwards was apparently the closest person to the shooter initially. She described being burned by a rain of spent bullet casings. Somehow, she was lucky enough to be out of the line of fire (probably out of the shooter’s gas mask inhibited vision) long enough to understand what was happening. I’m guessing that most people would need a few seconds to understand that the brass casings are the hot things hitting them in the face. How did it never occur to her to plant a foot so deep into the shooter’s crotch that he would end up begging for someone to kill him?

Another man, interviewed in his hospital bed, so apparently shot, described the shooter’s gun jamming while it was pointed right at him. If someone is shooting at you personally, and his gun jams, let me just offer this piece of advice. That’s the exact moment when you attack and fight like your life is at stake, because you already know that your life is totally at stake, never mind the people on either side of you. Never will there be a more certain moment in your life. You fight, or you fold. Now, I don’t know the extent of the man’s injuries, and it’s entirely possible that he literally could not tackle the shooter, but the concept applies.

Militarily speaking, if you are ambushed in close quarters, your best bet is to rush the shooter(s). Yes, you may get shot. Yes, you may die, but if you are in the line of fire and you don’t rush the shooter, those two outcomes are just as likely.

I wasn’t there. It’s entirely possible that I personally would have panicked and stampeded upright for the door, but it’s not likely I would have made it out without at least one bullet to pay for failing to think. I could claim that I would have done something about the shooter, but I can’t do it with any verifiable degree of confidence. I like to think I would, and I have reason to think that I might. I also know enough about some of you to have complete confidence that you would try to stop the shooter as well. You may feel some responsibility to your fellow human beings for example. That’s why I feel disturbed and compelled to ask, who have we become, if in an entire theater of Americans, no one tried to stop a man from shooting a room full of innocent men, women, and children?

I hope that I am just ill-informed and that the stories of those who tried and died in the attempt have simply failed to appear. It’s a question of our character and courage as a people, you see…

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing.”   – Edmund Burke

It’s all Relative

One of the great values of fiction, stories in general, is that it allows us to borrow someone else’s perspective. We can see through different eyes. Learning the skill of borrowing perspective is always useful in real life. The faster you figure out where your boss is coming from, for example, the better. Unfortunately, borrowing perspective is a double edged sword.

Just minutes ago, I was driving to the store to purchase my fuel of choice (Diet Pepsi, which I felt I needed badly enough to make a special trip). I turned the corner at the four way stop, just like I’ve done a thousand times. As I passed under the freeway, I saw a sight that reduced all my little problems to dust.

There was a woman at the back of a family, walking down the sidewalk. A man was at the front, down at the corner of Capitol Way. In between, there were three young children skipping and weaving along, like little kids do. At first glance, this family could have been out for a pleasant walk. The body language of the children suggested a fun event. The parents were a different story. They both wore the hunched shoulders of defeat. On my second glance, the story was revealed.

The man had several cheap cloth bags strapped around his shoulders, and the trailing members of his family each carried one or two plastic grocery bags full of clothing. Bringing up the rear, the mother was struggling under her own overweight condition and the four bags of clothes she was trying to carry.

My take was that this family had just been evicted and they were walking somewhere, hopefully somewhere they could find shelter. I don’t know. If that was indeed the case, then there are all kinds of perspectives on the situation. I could heap my scorn on the “deadbeat” parents, but I know quite well how hard it is to find a job these days. I could focus on the woman, who was so clearly unhealthy that she was barely able to walk. I could think about what it would be like to be those parents, working to take care of three children in a situation that could only be hopeless. Or maybe, I could think about the children themselves, who were about to embark on a life experience that, no matter how it turns out, was not of their making.

It struck me how happy the kids seemed to be, which means that I either read the situation incorrectly, or the parents were working hard to protect them from the hard reality of life.

For those of us who haven’t quite fallen off the bottom of the economic ladder, it’s hard to remember that there is an entire world of borrowed perspectives out there, and that in the grand scheme of it all, the fact that we are sitting here reading on the internet means that our problems don’t even register on a relative scale of millions of people. Perhaps billions.

In any case, I think that we can all do with a different point of view from time to time. May our problems be insignificant, folks.